WASHINGTON, DC — As Democrats in the United States prepare to watch the last presidential primary debate of 2019 this coming Thursday, the crowded race has stubbornly resisted narrowing.
Sure, Kamala Harris dropped out this month, alongside a couple of more fringe candidates. But that came just after two new candidates, former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and billionaire former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, entered the race. What’s more, as this month’s polls continued to show no one able to move away from the pack, there was increased talk of Hillary Clinton making a possible late run for a rematch against Donald Trump.
Former vice-president Joe Biden continues to lead most polls, though his support has appeared to have reached a ceiling for months. He is not strong in the two earliest states to vote — Iowa and New Hampshire — leading to concerns he might appear to be losing before he gets to places where he has big support, such as North Carolina. Perhaps as big a concern about Biden is that he is 77 years old and appears sometimes to be flagging mentally — reports this week rumoured that he had privately suggested to some supporters he’d only serve one term. He’s always been famously gaffe prone, and he has a tendency toward long-winded non sequiturs.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren appeared in the early fall to be ascendant, but after much debate over her universal health-care plan — and how it would be paid for — she seems to have stalled.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has the most support among young people, and the most enthusiastic supporters, but is disliked by the party establishment (a Politco report said the only way former president Barack Obama would be drawn into issuing an opinion on the campaign would be to stop Sanders). Sanders has, in recent poll tallies in many primary states, appeared to have improved his standing, though his national poll numbers have been fairly consistent for months and his positional changes come more from Warren’s shifting fortunes.
The only front-runner currently under 70, South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg who is 37 years old, has looked strong in early states leading to increased skepticism and attacks about his slight experience, his nearly non-existent support among Black voters and younger voters, and his past work as a corporate consultant for McKinsey.
As a result, this past week, Buttigieg released a list of his work for corporate clients. On the list was Canadian grocer Loblaws, who Buttigieg consulted for on prices in Toronto for six-months in 2008 — leading his campaign to publicly clarify he was not involved in the bread price-fixing scheme that came to light in 2017.
That none of those four has broken away, or appeared to build the kind of electoral movement that suggests a sweep into office, has looked like an invitation to some others.
Bloomberg, among the wealthiest men in the United States, won’t contest the earliest states but has spent more money on advertising in just a few weeks than the leading candidates combined have all year — a reported $100 million — and as a result has climbed quickly to fifth in the polls. The technocrat and one-time Republican has said he got into the race because he thinks all the other candidates would lose to Trump, and has been critical of the tax-the-rich policies of Sanders and Warren. He seems an unlikely figure to inspire allegiance among Democratic primary voters or voters in rust belt swing states, but the amount of his own money he is prepared to spend may make him an interesting factor in the race.
Meanwhile, a relaxed and well-received appearance on the Howard Stern Show by former first lady and senator — and 2016 Democratic nominee — Hillary Clinton has led to renewed speculation that she might get into the race. Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon said on his podcast recently that her appearance on Stern’s show has him convinced she’s planning to run to “save the Democratic party” from Bloomberg.
Though Clinton has tamped down such speculation for months, a Harris Poll survey released late last week showed her leading the other candidates, and early this month she told a UK talk show she’s been “deluged” with pleas to enter and didn’t appear to shut the door entirely. “Right now, I’m not at all planning that. I’d have to make up my mind really quickly,” she said.
It’s unclear whether a longer contested primary campaign — the primaries do not begin until early February and run into early June — would hurt a Democratic campaign. Two separate national polls released this week, conducted by Real Clear Opinion Research and Quinnipiac University — both showed any of the candidates beating Donald Trump if an election were held today.
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